Editor’s Note: SOFREP welcomes Dino Garner to the writing staff. We could give you a long introduction to this guy’s fascinating life and career but we figured we’d let him tell you about it himself in his own words. I hope our SOFREP members will give him a warm welcome.
Before you do something that people consider dangerous and impossible, they call you stupid. Consider the reactions I got from old friends when I told them I’d said goodbye to my 15-year career as a research biophysicist and enlisted in the US Army at age 35:
“That’s just plain stupid! Do you have a death wish and are you a f*^%#$ idiot, Dino!?”
Ahhh, but when you succeed and prove everyone wrong, they look at you entirely differently: you are now audacious. One friend said I was still stupid.
Enlisting in the US Army at Age 35 Ain’t Cool
What made my enlisting so uncool was that there was no war going on where we could run off and earn a Silver Star and Purple Heart, maybe kill some Russians. The only shenanigans at the time was the crap in the White House with the President who claimed he didn’t inhale.
My peers were doing well on Wall Street, in the military as fighter pilots, starting their own companies, or in the board room being groomed to become C-suite operators. One of ‘em said, “Dino, you never do anything easy, do ya?”
Me? I couldn’t care less about money, power, prestige or a corner office on Park Avenue. I had always pursued experience and knowledge, and those coveted lessons learned that you could take with you on the next journey. A casual observer said it was “the purest form of job pursuit” he’d ever seen. “Very zen of you, Dino.”
Who the Heck am I and Why Should You Give a Hoot?
I’m Dino Garner, the idiot who reported for duty as a US Army Airborne Ranger in 1994 at age 35. With a little luck, I’ll be writing pieces for SOFREP.com. Please consider this my introduction.
I’d gotten a Ranger Contract when I enlisted in October of 1993 when our brothers were doing a whole lotta killing in Mogadishu. And, sadly, some dying.
Mine was not a snap patriotic move or decision. I didn’t join because of those haunting images on international media of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of a third-world sewer by people who did not value life on any level. Except as a tool of propaganda.
A List of Life Goals
No, my decision was carefully designed and built when I was in ninth grade. At 15, I made a list of my life goals. Of course, to a 15 year old, life ends at 40, so mine was planned out to about that age.
[Special note: if you’re a 15-year-old reading this piece, please be careful what you wish for. If you’re good at getting your way, you may just get it. Dream big, live wild!]
I’d read the book and saw the movie, JAWS, and wanted to be Dr. Matt Hooper. The movie version where he lived at the end. Later, I studied electroreception in sharks and spent thousands of hours underwater with many different species, including big hammerheads. Incidentally, before that when I was in college, I became the first scientist ever to successfully culture shark cells. And published the work in the scientific journal Tissue and Cell.
Checked that block.
Serve in the US Army as a Ranger. When my Dad was flying missions in the F-4 in Vietnam, he’d send me cutout articles from Stars & Stripes. One caught my eye, about Army long-range recon and patrol gurus. They were members of Lima Company, 75th Rangers. Given I was sneaky, curious, and pretty patient, I wanted to be like those dedicated and fearless special-operations soldiers.
Checked that block.
Later, I devoured Frederick Forsyth’s The Dogs of War and wanted to do some kind of merc work where I helped good people. Using someone else’s considerable money, I started two international private military firms and did more than 220 overseas missions. Then later hunted poachers in Africa on 10 additional missions. The latter was just plain stupid of me, as I was a broken 53-year-old man who drank more Peroni than water. Plus, I was escorted by a clan of hyenas who saw me as the alpha.
Excerpt from my upcoming book, TOPGUN: The Otherworldly Dreams of a Lifelong Ten Year Old: “My training as a scientist, especially a field marine biologist, and Army Ranger allowed me to evolve new actions and techniques that kept us all alive.”
Checked that block.
Since I was labeled a “problem child who would amount to nothing,” I wanted to study and learn what made my mind tick. I wanted to become a “brain biology guy,” not knowing the proper term. I later became a biophysicist and neurobiologist who developed the world’s sharpest glass microelectrode and studied biophysical mechanisms of memory storage in single neurons in rat hippocampal slices. Specifically, my baby was the afterhyperpolarization following an action potential.
Checked that block.
Serving With the Famed 1st Ranger Battalion
A Ranger Contract permitted me to attend Basic and Advanced Infantry School, Airborne School and the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP). If I passed all those, I would be assigned to a Ranger Battalion.
In the beginning, I ran a 22-minute two-mile. You read that accurately: 22 minutes. By the time I got to RIP, that time was down to 14 minutes. We started out with 150 tough kids in RIP, got down to 75 at the and, and I was #2. My two-mile time was then 13:20: not great but respectable enough to choose my duty station and move forward.
I chose the 1st Ranger Battalion, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, Georgia. It’s where I met my future wife, Audrey, a beautiful and talented critical-care nurse. Cool trivia: her father was Captain Peter “Ali” Cremer, a famous German (not Nazi) U-Boat ace in WWII.
Motivation for Doing the Army Late in Life
Doing the Ranger thing at age 35? I don’t recommend it unless you make a 110% commitment, meaning you give up everything in your life (family, friends, colleagues; house, car, motorcycle, and precious things) to focus on becoming the best special-operations soldier possible. Like Yoda said, “There is only do.”
For me, it meant giving my heart, mind, body and soul to 1st Bat. When I got there, they’d already been training for the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) competition and my senior NCOs said I couldn’t do it. Just too late to train. Not taking NO for an answer, I went to my First Sergeant and plead my case.
Fast forward: I scored the highest on the course, earning a coveted True Blue EIB, having gotten it right the first time on all 50 stations. No Christmas GOs, no gimmes, no extra points.
I was chosen to represent all enlisted Rangers at the formal EIB awards ceremony at Hunter Army Airfield in August 1994, shortly before our 40-day/night combat cruise aboard the USS America for Operation Uphold Democracy, where we served with SEAL Team Six.
My EIB was pinned on by Airborne Ranger Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr., whose Korean War Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2021. Yup, I’d been chosen to represent all enlisted Rangers that day.
Stuff Happens, Good And Bad
The remainder of my Ranger career was a mix of ups and downs, with a five-month stint in Ranger School, where I lost 50 lbs. of solid muscle and celebrated my 37th birthday. Unfortunately, I went home without my tab, but I took all the lessons learned there and in Bat, and did some cool work overseas as a civilian operator, saving hundreds of lives, including those of many beautiful animals in Africa.
Like I said, “Dream big. Live wild.”
My Personal Code of ‘Deathics’
Oh, and that “death wish” issue? I can answer that by sharing my “Code of Deathics: I win. You lose.” Again, death wish? Sure, I wish for the death of my enemies. Entiende?
About the Author
Dino Garner is a former scientist, Army Ranger, corp. merc., military aviation photographer, and New York Times bestselling ghostwriter/editor of many books. His latest books are TOPGUN: The Otherworldly Dreams of a Lifelong Ten Year Old and 61 Is The New 41: Crosstrain Yourself to Health and Well-Being. If you’d like to view a pdf draft of TOPGUN and write a testimonial for the book’s Advance Praise pages, please email Dino: [email protected].